Grapevine: Speaking Italian
Understanding the terms used on wine labels can be pretty challenging, particularly when they are in a foreign language. Is that the grape variety? The producer? Are either of these details even on the label?
For most European regions, they will have a tier of terms that start with broad areas and become more and more specific in terms of the geogaphical origin of the wine. For today we will look at Italy, and in particular the north-western area of Piedmont. The broadest classification in Italy will appear as Vino da Tavola; in this case the wine can come from basically anywhere in Italy and, thus, the grape varieties used may be unclear and unknowable without some additional research or assistance.
The next step ‘up’ is the IGT (indicazione geografica tipica) which will give you a clearer picture of where the wine has come from, along with some idea of the grape varieties used (again with a little research) but the wines may include a portion of grapes that are not permitted in the more stringent standards to come.
The DOC and DOCG classifications are the pinnacle of Italian wine. They specify the grape varieties permitted and in some cases the proportions, where the grapes may be grown to be classified as DOC or DOCG, as well as standards of viticulture and winemaking which must be adhered to.
The difference simply being in the stringency of each of these factors; DOCG being the stricter of the two. There are 329 DOCs and 74 DOCGs in Italy currently.
As with many European regions, they will not put the grape variety on the label and, therefore, it takes a little bit of research to understand which varieties are permitted for the region and classification on the label.
In Piedmont, we are lucky to have the varieties included in the name, particularly for the purposes of this article. Nebbiolo features in some of the most sought-after wines not just in Italy, but anywhere in the world.
It reaches its peak in the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco; two small DOCG areas within the Langhe zone of Piedmont. At the DOC level we find wines labelled as Langhe Nebbiolo more commonly. These are wines that are typically consumed earlier than the DOCG wines of Barolo or Barbaresco which can take 10-plus years to be in their best drinking zone.
Langhe Nebbiolo provides a great introduction both to the variety and the region. Typically they will be raised in stainless steel or maybe some older, large format oak and spend less time in oak before bottling. They show off the assertive balance of tannin and acid that characterises the grape, alongside the pretty and delicate fruit profile.
The Benevelli Piero Langhe Nebbiolo 2018 ($35) is a great example at a price well below many similar quality peers. Now sealed under screwcap, it opens bright and fresh with pretty floral and red fruits, the tannins are assertive but fine and give you a good picture of the basic characteristics to expect in Nebbiolo.